Lee “Scratch” Perry, whose pioneering work with roots reggae and dub opened new depths in Jamaican music, has died at age 85.
The Jamaican media reported the news that he died at the Lucea hospital in northern Jamaica. No cause of death has yet been given. Andrew Holness, the country’s prime minister, sent “deepest condolences” to Perry’s family.
The fast beats of Perry’s work established the roots reggae sound that Bob Marley made famous around the world, while his dub production, with its haunting use of space and echo, would have a profound influence on post-punk, hip-hop, dance music and others. genders. Along with his gnomic pronouncements and mystical air, he became one of the most unusual and esteemed artists in Jamaica. Keith Richards once described him as “the Salvador Dalí of music. It’s a mystery. The world is your instrument. You just have to listen. “
Perry was born Rainford Hugh Perry in Hanover parish in northwestern Jamaica in 1936 and dropped out of school when he was young: “There was nothing to do except field work, so I started playing dominoes and learned to read the minds of others, “he said. Clement“ Coxsone ”Dodd, director of reggae studio and label Studio One, hired him as an assistant, then as a talent scout, DJ, store manager, and finally recording artist. It earned its nickname “Scratch” from an early recording, The Chicken Scratch, in 1965.
In the first of many disputes that peppered his career, Perry parted ways with Dodd and began working with the label’s producer and director, Joe Gibbs, who in turn was sidelined by Perry. He became increasingly independent, forming his own backing band, the Upsetters, with a series of early releases set in spaghetti westerns: Return of Django, Clint Eastwood, The Good, the Bad and the Upsetters, and more.
In 1973, he built his own studio, the renowned Black Ark. He experimented with drum machines and the potential of studio equipment. In addition to firing pistols, breaking glass, and testing animal noises, he also blew marijuana smoke onto the master tapes to purportedly enhance the recordings. He pioneered the technique of dubbed versions of reggae tracks, with the bass emphasized, the vocal sometimes removed, and reverb added to create an eerie, echoing sonic space. “I see that the study should be like a living being, a life in itself,” he said. “The machine must be alive and intelligent. Then I put my mind on the machine and the machine realizes reality. “
The Upsetters endorsed Max Romeo for the Perry-produced War Ina Babylon album, part of the politicized reggae wave of the mid-1970s and featuring one of the genre’s biggest anthems on Chase the Devil. Other classics Perry produced include Congos ‘cosmic masterpiece Heart of the Congos, Heptones’ Party Time covering Dylan, and Junior’s hit Murvin Police and Thieves, which protested police brutality and was later covered by The Clash. Later, Perry produced the Clash single Complete Control in 1977.
The same year, Paul and Linda McCartney traveled to Black Ark and recorded two songs there. In 1980, Perry sent a letter to the Japanese justice minister after McCartney was arrested for carrying 7.7 ounces of marijuana in his luggage, arguing: “Please do not consider the amount of herbs involved excessive. Maestro Paul McCartney’s intentions are positive. “
Before Black Ark, Perry also worked with Bob Marley and the Wailers, who had recruited members of the Upsetters. His recordings from 1970 and 1971 are highly admired; Marley’s son Ziggy has said: “Scratch helped my father look more deeply into himself … [he] it was fundamental in my father’s career. “
The collaboration ended in bitterness, however, with Bunny Wailer later saying, “He sat there in the studio while we played our music, and then he screwed us up. We never saw a penny of those albums we made with him … Lee Perry’s ignorance cost us a lot of money, and I never forgave him. “
Perry burned the Black Ark in 1983, convinced that it was possessed by evil spirits, but continued to record steadily for the rest of his life. He won a Grammy Award for the 2003 album Jamaican ET; Other contributors included George Clinton, Moby, The Orb, Ari Up from Slits, and Beastie Boys: “They were good Jewish boys and they were clean on the inside. Very cute, ”he said of the latter, who honored him on the track Dr. Lee PhD. He also collaborated with British dubbing producers Adrian Sherwood and Mad Professor. A documentary about his life, The Upsetter, was narrated by Benicio Del Toro and released in 2008.
Perry was married twice, first to Paulette Perry, whom he divorced in 1979, and then to Mireille Ruegg, whom he met in 1989. He later moved to Switzerland to live with Ruegg, with whom he had two children, reasoning later to the Guardian about his new home: “I’m half elf, sometimes it’s too hot for me, I need a cold place.”
In addition to his music, he was known for his eternally youthful and chaotic style of dress, and his mythical statements about himself. “I am an alien from the other world,” he said. “I live in space, I am just a visitor here.” He was also a religious devotee, telling The Guardian in 2016: “God is the teacher, the high priest, the coach, where we come from”, and in 2015: “There is no better teacher than Christ… Christ’s words are perfect. . “
Among those who paid tribute to Perry was reggae DJ David Rodigan, who said: “The world of music has lost one of its most enigmatic creators; an amazing and incomparable phenomenon whose sonic sound waves transformed our lives ”. The novelist Hari Kunzru described him as “one of the greatest artists in any medium of the last 50 years. Much of our lives (whether we know it or not) are lived in sound worlds that he created ”. Producer Flying Lotus wished him a “blessed journey to infinity.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism